Often, when I'm sitting on the bus or on a bench in the local park, a young woman will approach me and reach her hand out tentatively towards my crotch while making cooing noises, or saying such things as“Ooh, aren't you cuuute!" I hasten to add, it isn't always young women who do this to me - sometimes, it's older women or small girls and every so often men of various ages will reach for my groin, too. This has been going on for about four years, and while it isn't as intense as it was to begin with, it still happens with sufficient frequency that I find it . . . well, fucking annoying.
It isn't my fur that these love-struck fools wish to stroke but that of my small Jack Russell, Maglorian, who is such a lapdog that I cannot sit down for more than a few seconds without him whining for me to hoick him up on to my denim plateau. This has been going on for his entire life but I'm still dreamy - and possibly vain - enough to be disconcerted every time. After all, I can remember times, albeit long gone, when young women, even the occasional man, did reach for my crotch while making cooing noises. True, they didn't tend to do it in public but it happened nonetheless.
There's this discombobulating factor and then there's the wannabe fondlers' wanton invasion of my personal space. Why is it that the presence of a small dog licenses such freedom? I understand the feelings that people can have for a dog. I'm quite fond of Maglorian: he's pretty and well made and has some emotional intelligence, although his ability to reason falls well short of a Casio pocket calculator, circa 1973.
However, Maglorian is my dog and I have invested a lot of time in walking him, feeding him, picking up his excreta and taking him to overpriced veterinary surgeries. I feel very little inclination to go up to strangers in public and pet their small dogs, any more than I would their children.
It is to this connection - between the child and the small dog - that I believe the "Ooh, aren't you cuuute!" madness owes its genesis. Confused by his tininess, many as-yet-childless young women think that Maglorian is a puppy. So saturated are they with hormones goading them towards infants that his species is immaterial; they must cuddle him. When Maglorian was a puppy, his ability to inflame maternal passion was stupefying. I remember leaving him outside a shop at the Covent Garden piazza and coming back a few minutes later to find a baying crowd of women, five-deep, all looking like attack dogs prepared to rip the first of their number's throat out should she break ranks and go for that precious cuddle.
So it's not just unawares that I come upon this pathology; I can spot it from a long way off. The puckering of a downy top lip, the widening of a dewy eye, the heaving of a yearning-for-maternity bosom - these are the initial symptoms, followed by more disturbing sequelae: the spasmodic, tic-like touching, gurning and what neurologists term "palilalia", the repetition of meaningless words and phrases. "Ooh, aren't you cuuute! You're adooorable - aren't you adooorable? Are you a him?" (Duh, your hand is three inches from his penis.) "Can I say hello to you?" (You can talk to him until the cows come home but of one thing I can assure you: he will never answer - because he's a dog.)
Often I feel like giving these broody souls a shock of reality by saying: "I know you think he's adorable and you'd like to nurture him as you would a baby, but consider what would be involved in having a canine infant. You'd have to be impregnated by a small and snappy dog - not much fun. I concede, a two-month gestation period would be preferable to the usual nine-going-on-ten, but think of those claws scratching away inside you. Are you enough of a Spartan girl to withstand it?
“Then there's the delivery - should it be at the local hospital or the animal shelter? And explaining to all your friends why it is that your newborn doesn't need a bath but a shave; if, that is, there's just the one, because dog babies usually come in multiples - they're called litters. It may be this collective noun that has resulted in so many of them ending up in the canine equivalent of care."
Yet there wouldn't be any point, because, just as their malady renders me invisible to them, so it makes them incapable of understanding a word
I say. Perhaps I should try an ultrasonic whistle.